Key Plot Points
Mama and Maggie Wait for Dee: Having tidied their home and yard, Mama and her younger daughter, Maggie, wait for her older daughter, Dee, to arrive. Mama knows that “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes.” As she waits, Mama imagines being brought together with Dee on Johnny Carson’s television show. In her imagination, she is thinner, lighter, and witty, “the way [Dee] would want me to be.”
Mama Remembers Family History: Mama considers some of the traumatic events in her children’s lives. Their home burned down ten or twelve years prior to the start of the story, and Maggie was badly burned. Mama remembers raising money to afford to send Dee to school. She recalls that Dee was unkind and condescending when she shared what she learned with her family and friends. “Dee wanted nice things,” in contrast to Maggie, who is comfortable with her place in life.
Dee Arrives: Dee arrives with her friend. Mama and Maggie are both surprised by Dee’s appearance. Dee is wearing a “dress so loud it hurts,” and her hair “stands up like the wool on a sheep.” Dee has taken a new name: Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Dee explains she doesn’t wish to be named after her oppressors. Mama reminds Dee that she was in fact named after her aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Mama can’t pronounce the name of Dee’s friend, so he shortens it to Hakim-a-barber.
The Family Dines: Dee relishes the meal Mama and Maggie have prepared: pork, collard greens, chitlins, and cornbread. Dee admires many of the family heirlooms, including a bench her father made. Dee expresses her desire to take the top and dasher of the butter churn, which were whittled by Aunt Dee’s second and first husbands, respectively. Dee is less familiar with the familial history of the objects than Maggie is, but plans to use them for “something artistic” in her home.
Conflict over the Quilts: Dee asks Mama for the quilts that Mama, Aunt Dee, and her grandmother made. Mama says that she promised them to Maggie, who learned to quilt from her aunt and grandmother. Dee is shocked, and argues that Maggie will put the quilts to “everyday use” instead of preserving them. Seeing Maggie’s resignation, Mama takes the quilts from Dee’s hands and gives them to Maggie. Dee leaves, admonishing her mother and sister for not understanding their heritage.